LOS ANGELES — There’s a lot to be learned after just three weeks of a football season, yet at the same time it’s still a little early to come to conclusions about teams and players’ fate. I’m sure we all don’t expect Peyton Manning to keep this up or the Giants to be this dreadful, though surely we’re all surprised by Trent Richardson’s trade and Josh Freeman’s benching. This we do know: there are several teams and players performing very poorly and a few teams who look really good. One or two will stay on this path and everyone else will go up and down as the season ebbs and flows towards Super Bowl XLVIII.
That’s just how the National. Football. League. works. And why we live and die with it each week and why we love it. I can’t wait to see what Week 4 will bring. Until then, let’s find out who’s The Man.
32.) Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3) (32) — Of course, the game I bench Maurice Jones-Drew, since he’s playing against the vaunted Seattle defense, at home no less, he scores a late, garbage touchdown. Thank goodness that didn’t cost me a win, since my team is terrible. Then I really would’ve thrown something at my television. Even more so than watching the crappy “Dexter” finale.
31.) Minnesota Vikings (0-3) (30) — We’re about two more brutal losses to teams of the Browns quality (no offense, Cleveland) from me starting a Free Adrian campaign.
30.) Tampa Bay Bucanneers (0-3) (29) — How much would you pay to watch a webcam of the Bucs lockerroom? $2? $5? I think there’s some mess going on in there that I’m guessing is pretty damn interesting. Oh, and good luck, Mike Glennon, you’re gonna need it. And it’s time for a decent haircut, you’re a starting NFL quarterback now.
29.) Pittsburgh Steelers (0-3) (28) — When my dad knows the Steelers are in trouble, they really are. Seriously, how are they going to score points outside of Emmanuel Sanders or Antonio Brown breaking free on a long bomb?
28.) Washington Redskins (0-3) (24) — Preseason Week 3 went about as well as it could go, right? And did you know this is the first time EVER the Giants and Redskins have both started the year 0-3?
27.) New York Giants (0-3) (20) — The Giants are only this high because they’ve shown in the past it doesn’t matter how they start, they always seem to make it interesting down the stretch. How many more losses before the New York media starts calling for Tom Coughlin’s job?
26.) Cleveland Browns (1-2) (31) — So apparently the formula is: trade your best player, start your 3rd string QB and start winning games. Which team will be the next to follow this to Ws?
25.) Oakland Raiders (1-2) (25) — I really hope Terrelle Pryor isn’t hurt long term because he could become a special player. Though it might be time to have the conversation about the end of Darren McFadden, or at him being in need of a change of scenery to inject some life into his career.
24.) Carolina Panthers (1-2) (27) — Thirty-eight points?! Where did that come from this week? And does it say more about the Panthers being capable of turning this season around (they’re on a bye this upcoming week) or how miserable this Giants season is going to be?
23.) Arizona Cardinals (1-2) (22) — Almost positive this Cardinals team is going to be the one this season where I have no idea what to write about it each week. Most weeks it’ll probably be a lot of me gushing about the Honey Badger.
22.) St. Louis Rams (1-2) (21) — The Rams are the Cardinals are very similar in the respect that both have quarterbacks who aren’t really good but can make plays every once in a while, have solid skill guys who are underused, and defenses who could be great but something or another holds them back. Doesn’t help they play in the hardest division in football.
21.) Buffalo Bills (1-2) (24) — Not sure why but I like this team. I like E.J. Manuel. I like Doug Marrone. And I like that Manuel likes throwing to Stevie Johnson (have I mentioned that before?) They went up against a tough Jets team (can’t believe I just typed those words) on the road and nearly won. They’re going to be OK here in a bit.
20.) New York Jets (2-1) (26) — A month ago, I really thought we’d be talking about the temperature of Rex Ryan’s hot seat, not a 2-1 team with a rookie quarterback playing decently and a defense near the top of the league. Just amazing. When you think you have the NFL figured out, you realize you have no idea.
19.) Detroit Lions (2-1) (18) — The Lions got their first-ever win in Washington last week and then in the most bizarre story we’ve had this season, Nate Burleson broke is arm in a car accident when he was distracted by falling pizza and then hit the median. Your move, Bengals.
18.) Philadelphia Eagles (1-2) (16) — We know the Eagles don’t play any defense, but we also know the Eagles are still figuring out their own offense. Since the first half of the win against the Redskins they’ve been punked by the Chargers and Chiefs. I still think they’re going to be OK though. Not enough to make the playoffs but enough to lay the foundation.
17.) San Diego Chargers (1-2) (15) — Tennessee has proven to be a tough, hard-fighting team, so there’s no shame in losing to them. It seems like the AFC West is going to be more than a Denver runaway and the Chargers aren’t going to be an easy beat this year.
16.) Baltimore Ravens (2-1) (17) — I don’t know how the Ravens are above .500 but somehow they are. Very good win last week. Emotional with the retiring of Ray Lewis’s number and they found a way. That’s going to be their M.O. this season: finding a way.
15.) Dallas Cowboys (2-1) (14) — See what happens when DeMarco Murray gets his carries? Now if only he could run against the Rams each week he’d be in Adrian Peterson territory. I happen to think Dallas will beat San Diego this week which will set the ‘Boys up nicely this season, but we’ll see. They’re bound for a stinker.
14.) Houston Texans (2-1) (7) — There’s something about the Texans I don’t like. I can’t put my finger on it. Matt Schaub has done some Matt Schaub-like things this year. Arian Foster seems a bit disgruntled. Andre Johnson is dinged. But J.J. Watt is still awesome, but how long can he carry this team?
13.) Tennessee Titans (2-1) (13) — I haven’t seen more than a few seconds of the Titans play but I know Warren Sapp loves their defense. And when a first ballot Hall of Famer tells you something, you listen. Jake Locker is also proving to be very dangerous with his feet, which is something you can’t ever prepare for.
12.) Indianapolis Colts (2-1) (19) — Andrew Luck bent his old coach over his leg and gave him a spanking last week. I don’t know how else to explain what happened against the 49ers. Trent Richardson’s first carry in the blue and white was a touchdown and Indy’s defense made Colin Kaepernick look like a novice back there. This could be a dangerous team.
11.) Atlanta Falcons (1-2) (10) — I’m not convinced the Falcons could be fine without Steven Jackson, but an unhealthy Roddy White is really limiting Matt Ryan’s vertical attack. His offensive line isn’t giving him much, either, but this still is an explosive offense and a playoff team.
10.) New England Patriots (3-0) (8) — It’s hard to be undefeated yet still drop each week in the rankings, but that’s just what the Patriots have done thus far. I can’t believe I’m about to type this, but Tom Brady hasn’t been good through three games, tantrums, dropped passes or not. He’s missed a lot of throws. But as long as the defense keeps bringing its A Game, the Pats will be OK.
9.) Green Bay Packers (1-2) (5) — Their running backs ran hard, aside from Jonathan Franklin’s late-game fumble, and the defense was opportunistic, Aaron Rodgers made a couple bad throws late in the game which cost Green Bay. This is still a dangerous team but the jury is out if it’s playoff bound.
8.) Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) (9) — Andy Dalton is a good, not great, quarterback. He’s taken this team to the playoffs the last two seasons. He has playmakers all around him and a good defense. The Bengals should win the AFC North going away and contend in the conference. They should.
7.) Miami Dolphins (3-0) (12) — Raise your hand if you saw an undefeated start from the Dolphins coming? Anyone? Didn’t think so. Their running backs aren’t great and you can’t name one of their receivers other than Mike Wallace. But they play hard, Mr. Lauren Tannehill is slingin’ it and Cameron Wake and Dion Jordan are pinching the ends like mofos. They’re gonna be in the hunt all season.
6.) San Francisco 49ers (1-2) (4) — I still think the 49ers are good. I still think Colin Kaepernick is a superstar in the making, but as someone said to me last weekend, he’s feeling himself a little too much. He’s buying into his own hype a little too much. Take him favoriting all the “hate” tweets this week. Why? How does that motivate you?
5.) Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) (11) — What an awesome scene in Philly last week. Really proud of the fans for showing Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb the respect they deserved. Too bad they couldn’t show the same gratitude when the two of them were leading the Eagles to NFC East titles and conference championship games. Chiefs are making the playoffs. Mark it down. That defense and zero turnovers, along with Jamaal Charles, they might even beat Denver.
4.) New Orleans Saints (3-0) (6) — Would you believe the Saints are 4th in Total Defense (295.7 ypg) and 6th in Offense (404.3 ypg)? Jimmy Graham is out of his mind right now and though it appears New Orleans has zero running game right now, at least it doesn’t have to worry about always being in a shootout with teams.
3.) Chicago Bears (3-0) (3) — Jay Cutler has the mojo working so far but before we all get carried away, myself included, let’s remember he’s gotten off to hot starts each of the last few seasons with the Bears with nothing to show for it. So while he looks great now, let’s not count the cubs before they’re done hibernating.
2.) Denver Broncos (3-0) (2) — Actual Yahoo headline on Tuesday: “Is it too early to give Peyton Manning the 2013 NFL MVP?” Manning’s stat line this season is ridiculous with 1,143 yards, 12 TDs and ZERO picks, not to mention his 73% completion rate, only 4.2% higher than his previous career high, but MVP? After 3 weeks? Slow the truck down, people.
1.) Seattle Seahawks (3-0) (1) — Yes, the Seahawks gave up 17 points to the Jaguars. Yes, that is unacceptable. Yes, they’ve won 10 in a row at home. No, they will not lose at home this season. Yes, they are The Man until there’s a something in the “L” column.
LOS ANGELES — Passionate fan bases are part of what makes sports so amazing and unique and special, but it’s not just that we are fans of our favorite teams, rather it’s how we go about cheering them on to victory that makes it so awesome. Sunday, I watched the first half of the Seahawks/49ers game at a Seattle bar and in it where about 150-200 of the most insane people I’ve ever met. Every single one of them was decked out in some kind of Seahawks’ paraphernalia, including some pretty awesome old jerseys: Steve Largent, Jon Kitna, Joey Galloway and then today’s stars, Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Sidney Rice. One of the dudes, who was in the group I was in – my friend Stacye invited me out after I told her I had to watch a game with her given how rabid she is about Pete Carroll’s crew – even had a 12th Man jersey with “U Mad Bro” on the back. Oh, and it was sleeveless.
The other thing that struck me about everyone in the bar was their decibel level. Ironic that the Q set the record for outdoor noise the same night, because it felt about 136db around me every time Wilson was shown on TV. Seriously, these people went ape nuts every time anything happened. Seattle’s tight end DROPPED a touchdown and everyone lost their mind. It was pretty awesome to be there, too bad I missed most of the scoring plays, surely I would’ve lost my hearing by then. Even on Twitter everyone is crazy about them. I posted a couple nuggets and got immediate response. Love it.
The Hawks’ beatdown of San Francisco this week was definitely as impressive as their fans’ loyalty and devotion, but was it enough to make them The Man this week?
Let’s find out.
32.) Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) (32) — I wonder what Teddy Bridgewater thinks of the Jaguars helmets? Because if he doesn’t like them, you can be he’s going to pull a John Elway/Eli Manning and refuse to play for them when he’s drafted No. 1 overall less than 8 months from now. And I know no one cares about anyone else’s fantasy team, but you guys are my people, so I assume you care about mine. Well guess who got hurt Sunday for the Jags? You guessed it: EFFIN’ MAURICE JONES-DREW. I’m never taking him again. Ever. Ever.
31.) Cleveland Browns (0-2) (31) — I’ve seen “Old School” at least 150 times, no joke, and one of my favorite lines (among a hundred) is when Blue dies, and , his funeral Vince Vaughn says to Luke Wilson, “dammit, Blue was old, that’s what old people do, they die.” I feel like this is what we have to say about Brandon Weeden. Except he’s only 29. It’s just funny.
30.) Minnesota Vikings (0-2) (25) — Early Sunday a report was circulating that Bucs head coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman at odds and that Freeman might be traded on Tampa’s bye week. Immediately, I started seeing rumors of him going to the Vikings. I know Minnesota would do that faster than Adrian Peterson can sprint 78 yards for at touchdown, but who does Tampa want in return? Sure as hell not Christian Ponder.
29.) Tampa Bay Bucanneers (0-2) (30) — So yeah, who’s going to be quarterbacking this team a month from now? I think Vince Young and Matt Leinart are available. Also, for the second week in a row, the game was handed to them to win and they flubbed it up and got the L. That really tells you all you really need to know.
28.) Pittsburgh Steelers (0-2) (28) — It could be a long year in the Steel City. Ten points last night against the Bengals, nine the week before against the Titans. No running game. Lost their center for the year, another starter on defense.
27.) Carolina Panthers (0-2) (27) — Something’s not right with Cam Newton. Clearly, I don’t know what it is, but watching Sunday’s game, he was downright Weedenonian in the first half. Overthrowing guys by 15 yards, balls into the turf, bad sacks. He got better in the second half, but this is beginning his third year, he should be further along than this. He should be beating the Bills.
26.) New York Jets (1-1) (26) — I’ll give the Jets this: they sure played hard on Thursday and really should’ve beaten the Patriots. Geno Smith showed his rookie colors in the New England downpour and let one too many ball sail on him, but that Jets defense stymied Tom Brady the entire game, save for the opening drive. It’ll be interesting how this plays out, but Rex coached ‘em up and if they can get any offense, they got a punchers chance.
25.) Oakland Raiders (1-1) (29) — For years it was so typical of the Raiders to have the most money on their team tied up in their kickers. Now it’s their fullback who’s cashing big checks. Well, Marcel Reese scored a touchdown Sunday to “justify” the pay day. And good for him. Fullbacks are people, too. And I know they played Jacksonville, but the Silver & Black’s defense didn’t look half bad.
24.) Washington Redskins (0-2) (15) — Umm… so this was Preseason Week 2, right?
23.) Buffalo Bills (1-1) (24) — Impressive win on Sunday, even though it was against the Panthers, but EJ Manuel didn’t play great – he left a lot out there despite Carolina giving him multiple chances – but he led an impressive sub-2-minute drive (got some help on a phantom PI call on Luke Kuechly) and tossed a game-winning TD pass. Once he figures out what he’s doing in this league, he’s going to be a good one. And if there’s any silver lining for my fantasy team this season (yes, I’m already thinking about next year) it’s that he LOVES throwing to Stevie Johnson. It’s only just two games in, but it appears Doug Marrone made the right move going all-in on EJ.
22.) Arizona Cardinals (1-1) (22) — Even with a hobbling Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona still managed to find a way to pull out a come-from-behind win against what looks like a pretty decent Lions team. Tryann Mathieu yet again made a big defensive play and Carson Palmer did just enough not to lose it. Not sure what to make of their running game but the Cardinals can compete with anyone.
21.) St. Louis Rams (1-1) (21) — So THAT’s how Jeff Fisher wants to use Tavon Austin. Got it. That kid might have a future in this league. I like how the Rams showed some fortitude in coming back when it appeared they were gonna get blown out by the Falcons. They play in the toughest division in football and last year went 4-1-1 in that division. There’s no reason to think they couldn’t do that again.
20.) New York Giants (0-2) (13) — David Wilson gets benched for two fumbles and Eli Manning keeps his job despite 7 interceptions. Now, I understand how the quarterback position works. There’s a lot that goes into some of those picks; deflections, bad routes, and so on. But this is not a good start for the Blue Men Group. Again. Tom Coughlin on the hot seat in 3…2…1…
19.) Indianapolis Colts (1-1) (16) — Andrew Luck’s magic couldn’t extend for a second week in a row, but T.Y. Hilton showed why many raved about him in the preseason, hauling in 6 passes for 124 yards. This is a tricky team to get. The Colts won a lot of games last year in the closing minutes. Has their good fortune run out?
18.) Detroit Lions (1-1) (19) — Every time I watch Matthew Stafford throw the ball I’m reminded of how I must’ve looked growing up playing pick-up football in the field behind our house in the Coast Guard housing complex. Just slinging it from all angles. And is anyone else concerned that Reggie Bush is already ailing in a few different places?
17.) Baltimore Ravens (1-1) (14) — Still getting the champions discount, this Ravens team is a funny one. Struggled to beat the Browns on the day they raised the banner, no great offensive go-to guy outside of Ray Rice, who’s banged up. A defense without an identity. Good thing John Harbaugh is a helluva coach.
16.) Philadelphia Eagles (1-1) (10) — Michael Vick had another outstanding offensive game (guy in my fantasy league has him AND Peyton Manning, as if that’s fair). As did DeSean Jackson. But that defense gave up a boatload of points, that’s what would concern me moving forward. Really excited for Thursday’s game against the Chiefs, ya know, that team coached by Andy Reid.
15.) San Diego Chargers (1-1) (23) — The Chargers are one of those teams who should be undefeated, but alas, they’ve looked much better than most expected to start. Philip Rivers seems to have fixed what’s been ailing him the last two seasons. Still without a run game, he’s really doing it all on his own. To beat an Eagles team on the road in the early east coast game was damn impressive.
14.) Dallas Cowboys (1-1) (7) — Dallas has never lost a game when DeMarco Murray rushes 20-or-more times, but yet he only had 12 carries in Week 2 after 21 in Week 1; a win. We’ll see if he gets the rock this Sunday. Nice of Dez Bryant have himself a game, and you can see how he can affect a game when he’s ballin’. Also another good game from that Cowboys defense.
13.) Tennessee Titans (1-1) (20) — It’s crazy to think about a team like Tennessee, which everyone was writing off heading into the season, is a play away from being 2-0. Chris Johnson has 50 carries through the first two games and appears to be his old self. Jake Locker isn’t playing competently, and this defense appears tough, despite giving up the lead to Houston.
12.) Miami Dolphins (2-0) (18) — Maybe I should’ve kept Mike Wallace in fantasy after all, as dude blew up to help the Dolphins to a surprise start and take out the Colts on the road. Now they head home and host the Falcons with a chance to lead the AFC East for the first time since they won the division back in 2008. Warren Sapp said Lauren Tannehill’s husband was going to break Dan Marino’s team passing record and he’s on his way.
11.) Kansas City Chiefs (2-0) (17) — We kinda figured the Jaguars weren’t that good, so it was tough to judge just what we had with the Chiefs after Week 1, but after a Week 2 home win against Dallas, I’m a Chiefs believer. Alex Smith has been solid, the defense is flying around, and Jamaal Charles is running hard. I’m happy for Andy Reid and all the rib places in K.C.
10.) Atlanta Falcons (1-1) (6) — Matt Ryan is ballin’ out of control right now, but the big question is can his line keep the $100M man upright, especially now that Steven Jackson is out a couple weeks with a soft tissue injury. Roddy White’s health is a concern but if he can get healthy and Tony Gonzalez keeps playing his way into shape, there’s no stopping this offense.
9.) Cincinnati Bengals (1-1) (4) — I still need to see more out of Andy Dalton. He missed some easy throws Monday night against Pittsburgh but that defense was strong and Gio Bernard looked like a mini-Ray Rice out there. That Bengals defense is stingy, too. Pacman is playing some solid corner. Oh, and I know they won and dropped a few places, but that an adjustment since I had them over-rated a bit last week.
8.) New England Patriots (2-0) (5) — You know what, if I was Tom Brady, and believe me, I’ve thought about what that would be like, I’d be yelling too at everyone on the sideline, in the stands, on Twitter, if my receivers dropped balls like his did. Julian Edelman is the Patriots No. 1 option. Think about that for a second. Go ahead. I’ll wait … if you’re a Patriots fan, I’d be worried. Unbeaten or not.
7.) Houston Texans (2-0) (11) — What was the stat I saw, the Texans are the first team in NFL history to win their first two games of a season on the last play of the game. Think about that, and the handful of teams who could have their records reversed if one or two things went differently. Matt Schaub looks good so far and DeAndre Hopkins looks like the real deal after this game-winning TD grab (possibly the lone bright spot on my fantasy squad?). And not sure if you saw J.J. Watt on “The League” the last two weeks, but pretty hilarious stuff. As always.
6.) New Orleans Saints (2-0) (12) — The Saints had the worst defense in the NFL last season and so that led Marshall Faulk to make a bold prediction that they would be Top 5 by the end of the year. Currently, after two games, they are 11th. Subsequently, they are undefeated. These two items are not unrelated.
5.) Green Bay Packers (1-1) (8) — You think Aaron Rodgers was sick of hearing about all these young quarterbacks taking over the league? Especially when one of them was coming to his house? How’s almost 400 yards in the first half taste? Granted, me, Rich and Law and a few of the other NFL Media folks could probably score 30 on the Redskins, but damn, Aaron Rodgers can sling it. Now, the Pack just needs to play some defense and this is once again a legit Super Bowl contender.
4.) San Francisco 49ers (1-1) (1) — It’s safe to say none of us saw that Sunday night stinkfest coming out of the 49ers. That was a beatdown to the Nth degree. Anquan Boldin was held to one catch after turning the clock way back in Game 1 and Colin Kaepernick looked nothing like the superstar he showed himself to be against the Packers. It’s also worth nothing that no one wins in Seattle, so I wouldn’t be too worried.
3.) Chicago Bears (2-0) (9) — Could this really be the new Jay Cutler? Not getting sacked, throwing game-winning TD passes and generally acting like the opposite of the football player we know him to be. We’ve seen this act before out of the Bears; fast start, looking like a playoff team, then Cutler gets hurt and Bears fall apart. I wanna see some consistency. A win against Pittsburgh would be a nice proving ground.
2.) Denver Broncos (2-0) (2) — Wait. Peyton Manning just threw another touchdown pass. He’s pretty good.
1.) Seattle Seahawks (2-0) (3) — If Seattle gets homefield in the NFC, it’s going to the Super Bowl. There’s no bones about it. The Seahawks can’t lose there. When it’s that loud and Beast Mode is running like he’s on a Skittles high and First Name Russell, Last Name Wilson is throwing darts and the Legion of Boom is lowering the hammer. Shoot. No wonder Pete Carroll is always smiling.
LOS ANGELES — Whenever NFL Network airs old episodes of “Hard Knocks,” no matter the team, I always tune in. In addition to being fantastically produced by the NFL Films team, they are hilarious to watch with the benefit of hindsight. When the Jets cut little Danny Woodhead in 2010 you had no idea he would turn into this all-world, do-everything back for the Patriots. Nearly three years later, after New York has proven to be the buffoons of the league, the move is even more laughable. Watching the Dolphins last summer you never got the impression they would ever sniff the .500 mark or be a competent football team; you were too busy waiting patiently for any scene with Lauren Tannehill. In 2009, Chad Johnson looked like a lock for Cooperstown and his career faded quicker than the yellow enshrinee jacket. And on and on.
So, with less than 3 months until the 2013 season begins – the Hall of Fame Game between the Miami and Dallas is on Aug. 4 – here’s my wish list for teams for this upcoming season of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” (in no particular order).
Washington Redskins: They have the most dynamic young player in the league who just so happens to be coming off a horrific knee injury in Robert Griffin III, a squirrelly coach in Mike Shanahan, an owner who likes to meddle and flash his deep pockets, and a rabid, rabid fan base thirsty for a winner again. What’s not to like here?!
Seattle Seahawks: Football is back on the Pacific northwest and the Seahawks have a dynamic, rah-rah coach in Pete Carroll and some explosive players (Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice) to go with their charismatic young quarterback, Russell Wilson. Throw in the big mouth of Richard Sherman and the rest of the Boom Squad and this would be a very, very fun season of Hard Knocks.
Atlanta Falcons: I was pulling for them to be the choice last season, as the Falcons were a team on the rise, a thought confirmed as they were a play away from the Super Bowl. This time around is no different. Tony Gonzalez, the greatest pass-catching tight end of all-time, is back for a final season. Matt Ryan is one of the top quarterbacks in the league, Mike Smith looks like an extra on “The Sopranos,” Roddy White is among the chattiest in the league, Julio Jones as well; not to mention Brian Banks and his struggle to get back his football life.
Arizona Cardinals: Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I think the Cardinals would be extremely entertaining over four weeks of Training Camp. Bruce Arians and his Kangol hats would bound for laughs, Larry Fitzgerald is among the worldly NFL players, Patrick Peterson, the Honey Badger, not to mention Carson Palmer and his old tired arm and perfect hair. Sounds good to me.
New England Patriots: Yes, this is a homer pick, but who wouldn’t want to see exactly how Bill Belichick and Tom Brady perform their magic; to go behind the curtain with a 3-time Super Bowl Champion as they gear up for another AFC-dominating campaign. I know I would, and if you’re honest with yourself, you are, too.
Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers is the NFL James Bond and is now paid like a Sultan, same goes for Clay Matthews, who now has enough cashola to have a room full of FatHeads of himself. Throw in Mike McCarthy, the people of Green Bay, the young and exciting Randall Cobb, and you have the recipe for entertainment.
Philadelphia Eagles: This one makes a lot of sense. You got a rookie head coach with a pretty high profile in Chip Kelly and the hype surrounding his new offense, of course there’s Michael Vick and the “dynasty” comments he’s made in recent offseasons, add in the outspoken DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, the fans who would be bound to call into local radio to complain about the show, and I can’t see how this wouldn’t be a hit.
Buffalo Bills: A bit of a sleeper here, but think about it: Stevie Johnson is the new Chad Johnson right down to the game to back it up, they have a rookie quarterback learning the NFL game in surprise-First-Round-pick E.J. Manuel, a rookie head coach with a larger than life personality and enthusiasm for life in Doug Marrone. I’m guessing C.J. Spiller will wear a bunch of outrageous outfits, Marcel Dareus will do something ridiculous and they’ll eat a lot of wings. I hope.
San Diego Chargers: Two words: Manti Te’o.
LOS ANGELES — The 2013 NFL Draft is in a couple hours and by now you’ve surely read 8,000 mock drafts telling which team should take which college standout where and what it should trade up to get him, who’s worth the risk and who’s getting passed up. You’ve read things like “heavy-legged waist bender” and “dancing bear” and dogs and cats and busts, and heard comparisons to Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell and Elway and Marino and everywhere in between. Well this is not like any of those mock drafts. This is way more fun and speculative. Based on NFL.com’s projections for each team’s biggest area of need, I broke down what each of the teams picking in the Top 16 should do if they were drafting celebrities, either based on their real lives or a character they once played long ago. Because what’s more hilarious and a waste of time than mixing sports and pop culture? Right. Nothing. Pretty sure Grantland’s whole existence is based on this premise.
Enjoy and don’t forget to tune into the 1st Round of the 2013 NFL Draft on NFL Network in a couple hours at 8pm ET and all throughout the weekend. And, as always, I’ll have my 1st Round Running Diary posted sometime before Friday night’s 2nd Round coverage kicks off.
1.) Kansas City Chiefs: Biggest Need – Offensive line. Celebrity Pick – Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family): This might be the easiest pick in the Draft. Not only is Stonestreet a gigantic Chiefs fan, but he’s also roughly the size of a starting left tackle. In fact, I don’t think anyone would notice if Kansas City took him instead. And I know ES has lost some weight recently, but who wouldn’t want to see him in a wing-off with Andy Reid? Who isn’t paying $9.95 to see that?
2.) Jacksonville Jaguars: Biggest Need – Quarterback. Celebrity Pick – Jerry O’Connell (“Jerry Maguire”): If you were going to be the No. 1 overall pick in a fake NFL Draft, that’s really all I need to slot you at the top of this mock draft. Now, O’Connell didn’t have the greatest arm motion in his brief football clips but hey, anything’s better than Blaine Gabbert, AMIRIGHT?!
3.) Oakland Raiders: Biggest Need – Defensive Line. Celebrity Pick – Rick Ross (rapper): You want to talk about a hole plugger, Ross is your guy. He’s Vince Wilfork but with vocal skills. And you don’t have to worry about him looking the part; Ross would immediately be in the Top 5 All-Tattoo Team and his rap sheet puts him on par with Rolando McClain. Sounds like a Raider to me.
4.) Philadelphia Eagles: Biggest Need – Offensive Line. Celebrity Pick – Abraham Benrubi (“ER”): Every year there are picks that make you shake your head, and this is one of those, but trust me, Benrubi can protect Chip Kelly’s fine jewels. First off, this guy was a nurse, so he knows how to take care of people. Secondly, I once saw him at California Chicken Cafe on Melrose, and let’s just say he can pack away a combo wrap or 5. Conditioning might be an issue in this new high-tempo offense, but a source tells me he’s ready to adjust.
5.) Detroit Lions: Biggest Need – Defensive End. Celebrity Pick – Joe Manganiello (“True Blood”): Aggressive? Check (the guy’s a werewolf). Looks the part? Check (yeah, 6-5, 260 is significantly bigger than Dwight Freeney).
6.) Cleveland Browns: Biggest Need – Defensive Back. Celebrity Pick – Anthony Mackie (“We Are Marshall”): Mackie brought the wood and looked legit doing it as a Marshall safety, and certainly he’s jacked up like LaRon Landry in his latest flick “Pain and Gain.”
7.) Arizona Cardinals: Biggest Need – Offensive Line. Celebrity Pick – Billy Gardell (“Mike & Molly”): Not only is Gardell a monster, he’s a security guard, so he knows what’s it’s like to protect the good. Not that Carson Palmer would be considered “the goods” anymore, but you get my point.
8.) Buffalo Bills: Biggest Need – Quarterback. Celebrity Pick – Keanu Reeves (“Point Break”): “Don’t you know who this is? It’s Johnny Utah.” ‘Nuff said.
9.) New York Jets: Biggest Need – Quarterback. Celebrity Pick – Jamie Foxx (“Any Given Sunday”): If there’s anyone who could come in and tame the New York media and become the new QB darling in the Big Apple it’s Willie Beamen. Not only was he ahead of his time with the spread offense, he’s not afraid to smack talk with his own players. Something Mark Sanchez definitely isn’t doing.
10.) Tennessee Titans: Biggest Need – Offensive Line. Celebrity Pick – Reuben Studdard (Americon Idol): I don’t know what big Rube is up to these days, but I’m guessing him right now, in 2013, would be better than anyone the Titans could draft here. He could probably play the whole left side of the line if my waistline trajectory projection is accurate. Chris Johnson could ride that sandwich to 2,000 yards.
11.) San Diego Chargers: Biggest Need – Offensive Lineman. Celebrity Pick – James Gandolfini (The Sopranos): There’s not a more offensive person in the history of the world than James Gandolfini. OK, that may be stretching it, but Tony Soprano has to be up there among TV characters. He didn’t even want Meadow causally dating that mixed dude in Season 2, and he was always so eloquent with his speech. This is someone you want protecting you.
12.) Miami Dolphins: Biggest Need – Tackle. Celebrity Pick – John Goodman (“Roseanne”): Explosive. Powerful. Volatile. That pretty much sums up Goodman in all his roles and that’s definitely the kind of attitude you want on the offensive line where he’ll be protecting 2nd-year Mr. Lauren Tannehill.
13.) New York Jets: Biggest Need – Wide Receiver. Celebrity Pick — Jason Segal (“How I Met Your Mother”): Segal once told me and Hines Ward on the Red Carpet of the 2012 Academy Awards that if were ever to portray a football player in a movie, he’d be a tight end. So naturally, this is fitting for the Jets who need anyone to do anything productive on the field.
14.) Carolina Panthers: Biggest Need – Defensive Line. Celebrity Pick – Dwayne Johnson (Everything): Seriously, do you smell what The Rock is cookin’?
15.) New Orleans Saints: Biggest Need – Linebacker. Celebrity Pick – Channing Tatum (“Magic Mike”): There’s literally nothing this guy can’t do, so why not start at middle linebacker for the Saints? He’s ripped. A physical specimen and you know if he ever picked one off and returned it to the house he’d have a fantastic end zone dance.
16.) St. Louis Rams: Biggest Need – Wide Receiver. Celebrity Pick – Bill Bellamy (“Any Given Sunday”): This seems like an obvious choice. Bellamy told us he’s the greatest receiver of all-time. I have no reason to NOT believe him. All wide receivers are very level-headed individuals and never prone to self-aggrandizing and egomania.
LOS ANGELES — The Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs is always the most exciting. The final eight teams. The truly best eight of a long, arduous season left standing. And if you break down who’s remaining as we enter Week 19 there’s no question these are the elite eight: Patriots, Texans, Broncos, Ravens in the AFC, and Falcons, Seahawks, Packers and 49ers in the NFC. My preseason Super Bowl pick is still alive and we’ll see if Green Bay and New England make it through the weekend. I know I’m pretty excited after a lackluster Wild Card Weekend.
With the end of the season comes the end-of-the-year awards. Here are my picks:
MVP — Adrian Peterson: carried Vikings to the playoffs and averaged more yards per carry than Christian Ponder averaged per pass. Oh yeah, he blew out his knee just over a year ago and didn’t miss a single snap due to injury this season.
Comeback Player of the Year — Peyton Manning: missed the entire 2011 season and made most who said he should have retired or wouldn’t be the same eat crow with a remarkable 2012.
Offensive Rookie of the Year — Russell Wilson: didn’t get injured or turn the ball over as much as the other rookie candidates, and led the Seahawks to 11 wins and a playoff triumph. Good enough for me.
Defensive Player of the Year — J. J. Watt: 20.5 sacks and another 15 pass deflections. A must-double team on every play or risk him blowing up your whole offensive game plan.
Coach of the Year — Pete Carroll: with all due respect to Chuck Pagano/Bruce Arians, the Colts got some fortunate in-game luck this season (no pun intended) while Seattle played in a tough division, went with a rookie QB and finished undefeated at home. Always compete.
This will double as my end-of-the-regular season You’re The Man Rankings column as well as recapping my preseason Burning Questions for each of the 32 teams. Check that out here to see how I did.
Been an awesome season and it’s only gonna get better the next 3 weeks. Enjoy and thanks for coming along for the ride with me.
32.) Jacksonville Jaguars (final record: 2-14) (preseason YTM rank: 28) – Back before the season started, one of the cornerstones of my fantasy team was Maurice Jones-Drew and one of my questions was what week do I start him in fantasy after his offseason holdout? Well the answer should’ve been NEVER. Like never start him ever. Or trade him immediately. Or how about this: don’t keep him AT ALL. Don’t even consider keeping him. He ruined my fantasy season. Also, me not executing a trade the same week he got injured forced me into scramble mode the entire second half of the year; 418 yards and a TD from my keeper!!?! Sigh. And as for Justin Blackmon, he thrived with Chad Henne at QB and finished the season strong with 38 grabs and 5 TDs in the last 7 games. Certainly something to build on heading into 2013 and on his way to living up to my Anquan Boldin comparison.
31.) Kansas City Chiefs (2-14) (17) – Clearly, I missed pretty bad on my preseason prognostication of the Chiefs; like 14 spots bad. Though, I wasn’t alone. The Chiefs had all the tools to be a contending team this season and it just never got together. And it started with the quarterback. Matt Cassel was atrocious. Like got-his-coach-fired atrocious. I asked if Cassel was the man like people thought he was, well those who thought that are clearly idiots. He turned the ball over at Sanchezian rates – 12 interceptions and 7 lost fumbles – before he was benched in Week 10 and it appears his career as a starting QB are over. Hope he invested his large signing bonus wisely. I’m not sure where Cassel ends up next season, but wherever it is, it’ll be as a handsome backup.
30.) Oakland Raiders (4-12) (22) – Could the Raiders defense carry its weight; that is what I asked to start the season, guessing the offense would be in good shape. Well, let’s take a look at the numbers, shall we. Oakland finished 18th in total offense (8th in passing yards, 28th in rushing), 26th in points scored and 27th in 1st downs. Defensively, the Raiders were 15th in total yards (13th in passing yards allowed, 15th in rushing) and 28th in points allowed. So, in a way, you could say the the defense out-performed the offense but it just gave up too many points, which translated to only 4 wins. Oh, and Darren McFadden getting hurt AGAIN didn’t help anything. Wait, Carson Palmer just threw another interception.
29.) Philadelphia Eagles (4-12) (16) – Debacle. Disaster. Deserving. An overrated player didn’t use any of these D-words to describe the Eagles but they would’ve fit pretty much from Week 1 through their Week 17. This year didn’t just cost Andy Reid his job but it might’ve cost him his sanity. He had LeSean McCoy but barely used him. He benched Michael Vick for Nick Foles. And he thinks he can coach up the Chiefs into a playoff contender. After what Reid went through in the preseason he probably should’ve sat out this season. Then again, I said Peyton Manning should’ve retired. What do I know?
28.) Arizona Cardinals (5-11) (30) — I nailed this one right on the head this preseason. I wondered if I was up next on the Cardinals QB Carousel and as it turned out, they trotted out four different jamokes. FOUR!!?! Kurt Warner changed his phone number at least that many times this year ducking Ken Whisenhunt’s calls. Poor Wiz got canned, too. That was a theme this offseason.
27.) New York Jets (6-10) (26) – So as it turned out, Tim Tebow got used as much by the Jets as much as I did. I wondered how bad their offense was going to be this year and let’s find out: 30th in total offense; 30th in passing yards per game; 12th in rushing yards per game. Mark Sanchez was 31st in passer rating, ahead of only Matt Cassel, 26th in passing yards, 2nd in interceptions and 1st in turnovers. Yup, that’s pretty terrible.
26.) Cleveland Browns (5-11) (32) — So, the running game ended up being pretty decent in Cleveland, this fall. Trent Richardson ran for 950 yards and the 5th most rushing TDs in the league with 11. I may have cut Greg Little from my fantasy team in Week 4 or 5 (I’ve really tried to forget this season already) but Brandon Weeden (3,385 yds, 14 TD, 17 INT) wasn’t as bad as Mark Sanchez, so that’s a win. Sort of. The Browns were 30th in First Down Percentage, and whatever that means, I’m guessing it’s not good.
25.) Tennessee Titans (6-10) (24) – I figured the Titans would go as far as Chris Johnson took him, what with Jake Locker being the consistent starter for the first time, and I wasn’t exactly wrong. Surely, they expected more than 6 wins, but after a disappointing 2011 campaign, CJ bounced back with 1,243 yards and 6 TDs this season. Locker was again hurt and questions should be asked about his durability.
24.) Detroit Lions (4-12) (11) – Matthew Stafford finished 2nd in the NFL in passing yards this season, which we all kind of figured; he just missed a second straight 5,000-yard season by 33 yards. But 2012′s 4-win effort was definitely a disappointment especially after being a playoff team in 2011. I wondered if the secondary would let them down and it wasn’t terrible. Their unit allowed the 19th most passing yards per game but the 13th most touchdown passes. Still, how do you go from the playoffs to 4 wins in just one year?
23.) Buffalo Bills (6-10) (18) – Mario Williams did his part this year, registering 10.5 sacks and the Bills defense gave up the 23rd most passing yards per game. However, the offense was mediocre at best: 19th in total yards and you could argue C.J. Spiller was underutilized. Either way, it’s now former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone’s problem. Rumored to be replacing Chan Gailey on Sunday, Marrone led my beloved Orange to its second bowl win in 4 years.
22.) San Diego Chargers (7-9) (19) – Again, I nailed this one. There’s no way the Chargers weren’t finishing out of the playoffs and there’s no way Norv Turner and A.J. Smith weren’t getting fired and there’s no way I’m speaking proper English right now. Regardless, the Chargers were a disaster from the second half of the Denver game, on. Why? Who knows. Was Philp Rivers the problem? Beats me. Is Ryan Mathews a bust? I mean, it looks that way. Who’s gonna be the coach? Can they catch the Broncos next season? Should they just wear the powder blues all year? Probably.
21.) St. Louis Rams (7-8-1) (27) – I was really at a loss when it came to words for this Rams team in 2012, but back in the preseason I wondered who would emerge as a legitimate pass-catcher for Sam Bradford. This no-name group of receivers needed someone to emerge and that man appeared to be Danny Amendola, who despite missing 5 games and parts of two others, had 63 receptions. As a team, the Rams had 7 guys catch TD passes so we’ll see if anyone steps up next season. As for Steven Jackson, he did take a pounding this year but managed to gain 1,000 yards for the 8th consecutive season.
20.) Miami Dolphins (7-9) (31) — At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if you thought, watching Hard Knocks, the Dolphins were going to win 7 games, you’re the big winner at the casino tonight, Mikey. I was hoping Mrs. Tannehill would suit up at WR this year, but the Dolphins’ band of no-names led by Brian Hartline wasn’t terrible catching the ball. Sure, Reggie Bush didn’t lead the league in rushing or even 1,000 yards (he was 14 short), but this team was one of the surprises in the league and will contend for a playoff spot next year. Oh, and Mrs. Tannehill will be around A LOT.
19.) New Orleans Saints (7-9) (7) – Turns out the head coach is pretty darn important. Turns out the interim coach is pretty important, too. Turns out you can’t start the first 4 weeks winless and expect to have it be in the Super Bowl game being played in your stadium. The Bounty Gate situation was a black cloud over the team, city and league for what seemed like the entire season. New Orleans would love nothing more than to put 2012 behind it. Sure, Drew Brees signed a bajillion dollar contract, his coach did, too, and he threw for more than 5,000 yards (again), but he surely would’ve given it all up (and those terrible Pepsi commercials) to have made the playoffs. Next year.
18.) Dallas Cowboys (8-8) (21) – One of the big Cowboys stories heading into this season was Jerry Jones giving Dez Bryant his own set of bodyguards. Well those guys did their job as Dez had one of the more memorable receiver seasons by someone not named Calvin or Johnson. All Dez went out and do was haul in 92 passes for 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns, including 10 scores in the last 8 weeks and doing it with a broken finger. He balled out. No question about it and really answered the bell when many were questioning him throughout the year. He’s an elite receiver. Wish the Patriots had him.
17.) Carolina Panthers (7-9) (15) – If you have a younger sibling, you remember what it was like when they were born and suddenly you weren’t the toast of the town anymore. I get the feeling Cam Newton’s feelings were hurt by all the buzz around Andrew Luck and My Good Friend Robert. Look at the season splits; in the first 10 weeks the Panthers were 2-7 and came had 10 INTs and only 8 TDs. Down the stretch, Cam lit it up as Carolina saved not only its miserable season but Ron Rivera’s job, throwing for 11 TDs and only 2 INTs. Sophomore slump? Sure. But I’d be back on that Camwagon next season, if I was you.
16.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9) (13) – I thought this Bucs team was going to make the playoffs; even said so when they started 2-4. I believed. And was looking even better after rattled off 4-straight wins to get to 6-4 and were in the drivers seat for the Wild Card. Josh Freeman was in shape, making plays and Doug Martin was running rampant. Then … yeah, I don’t know. Then the wheels came off and the Bucs lost 5 in a row and Freeman threw 10 picks. It was brutal. 6 and 4 became 7 and 9 with lots of questions heading into the offseason.
15.) Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) (12) – Nailed this one, too, and I don’t feel good about it. Mike Wallace couldn’t have been more terrible; don’t know the exact number but he had to have led the league in drops while killing my fantasy team in the process. Ben Roethlisberger nearly got himself killed by playing with fractured ribs and Rashard Mendenhall probably won’t even be on the team next year. Oh, and Todd Haley is talking to the Cardinals about their coaching vacancy. Yup, a season to forget in Pittsburgh.
14.) New York Giants (9-7) (1) – Normally it’s the Super Bowl loser who struggles the following season but the Giants gave Tom Coughlin little to smile about this season. I’m not sure if it was the 3-5 collapse after a 6-2 start or if it was watching the hated Redskins win the division for the first time in 13 years or if it was just he constantly has a sour puss look on his face. Actually, his A Football Life was one of the more enjoyable this year and gave some insight as to why Coughlin is who he is. Check it out if you haven’t had the pleasure.
13.) Chicago Bears (10-6) – Brandon Marshall was tied for 2nd in targets (195) with Reggie Wayne and receptions (118) with Wes Welker, trailing only Calvin Johnson in both. Marshall was 3rd in receiving yards (1,508) behind Megatron and Andre Johnson. BM15 also scored 11 touchdowns. So, yeah, I’d say he and Jay Cutler made sweet music this season on the Midway and should be a great combo moving forward. Though we’ll see who the Bears new coach is what he has to say about it.
12.) Minnesota Vikings (10-6) (29) — Remember all those ones I said I nailed earlier? Well I definitely screwed the pooch on this one. Here’s exactly what I said again about Mr. Adrian Peterson before the season: “If I’m Adrian Peterson, for starters I’d probably spend an uncomfortable amount of time staring at myself in the mirror, but I also wouldn’t be in any rush to get back on the field in Minnesota.” Yeesh. So 2,097 yards later, how’s that taste, Brockman? But my real preseason question was about the Vikings defense, so a quick statistical analysis tells me that it was it gave up the 9th most passing yards in the league, and worst in the NFC North.
11.) Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) (8) – The 2011 Bengals went 9-7 and were the AFC Wild Card. Andy Dalton threw for 3,398 yards, 20 TD and 13 INT and made the Pro Bowl, while rookie wide receiver A.J. Green caught 65 balls for 1,057 yards and 7 TDs. But they ultimately lost in the opening round of the playoffs to the Texans. The 2012 Bengals went 10-6 and were the AFC Wild Card, Dalton threw for 3,669 yards, 27 TDs and 16 INTs, Green caught 97 passes for 1,350 yards and 11 TDs but lost to the Texans in the AFC Wild Card. So yeah, I’d say they equaled last year.
10.) Washington Redskins (10-6) (20) – What went on in the NFC Wild Card aside, there’s no question that My Good Friend Robert (as he’s been known as this season in this very column) was one of the chief stories of the 2012 NFL Season. What he did to shock to life the football-crazed DC area was nothing short of a miracle and to call him a Cam Newton-lite, like I tried to do in the preseason was a vast understatement. Here’s Cam’s 2011 season numbers: 4,051 passing yards, 21 TDs, 17 INTs, 706 rushing yards, 15 TDs. Here’s Robert’s 2012 season stats: 3,200 passing yards, 20 TDs, 5 INTs, 815 rushing yards, 7 TDs, AND he was 3rd in the league in passer rating behind two guys named Rodgers and Manning. Ho hum. Unreal. And Mike Shanahan went the other direction used just one main running back this year, another rookie, who only rushed for 1,600 yards in Alfred Morris. Football is back in Washington.
9.) Indianapolis Colts (11-5) (25) – What an amazing season in Indianapolis from the play of their rookies, a rejuvenated Reggie Wayne and the story of Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians, who deserve to share Coach of the Year honors. I had the Colts 25 in the preseason and predicted that would be their lowest ranking of the year. Turns out I was more than correct. I didn’t envision a playoff team, but thanks to Luck’s astounding rookie season (4,374 passing yards, 23 TDs, 17 INTs, 5 rushing TDs) and some timely big plays, the Colts won 11 games and should be again contenders for the next decade or so.
8.) Baltimore Ravens (10-6) (4) – The Ravens began this year with an undrafted, 22-year-old rookie kicker from Texans named Justin Tucker, who replaced Billy Cundiff, who if you remember, missed from 32 yards in last year’s AFC Championship game and cost Baltimore a trip to the Super Bowl. So I wondered if its new kicker could indeed make a 32-yard field goal. And while Tucker had a fine 2012 season in which he only missed 3 field goals the entire year, he did not make one from 32 yards out. He was 8-for-8 on kicks between 30 and 39 yards, including three each from 38 and 39 yards, but not from 32. Tucker was perfect from 50-plus yards, but none from 32. So we’ll see this weekend and beyond if he is called upon can he deliver from that distance.
7.) San Francisco 49ers (11-4-1) (5) – Maybe the real question I should’ve asked was whether or not someone OTHER than Alex Smith will make everyone forget Jim Harbaugh tried to woo Peyton Manning last offseason. Man. Poor Alex Smith. Who saw his benching coming? Guy was leading the league in passer rating, got knocked out, and then Wally Pipp’ed. Colin Kaepernick has come in and gone 5-2-1 as a starter and looks explosive and unguardable at times. He has a cannon and runs like a gazelle. He beat the Saints and Patriots on the road and the Bears at home. Battle tested? Not exactly. We’ll find out very, very soon against Green Bay. But remember, Smith got them to within a few minutes of the Super Bowl last year, anything less is a disappointment out of CK1.
6.) Seattle Seahawks (11-5) (23) – This will be my shortest response of the column. I asked if Russell Wilson could make the Seahawks a contender when the games counted for real: YES. YES. YES. I’m a believer. He did it. And he kills it on this week’s Eisen Podcast, listen for yourself and tell me you’re not all-in on this kid.
5.) Houston Texans (12-4) (6) – Arian Foster continues to dominate NFL defenses and the Twitterverse, while the bow is catching on as a favorite end zone celebration. He bowed a total of 17 times this season and led the league with 351 rushing attempts, so clearly Gary Kubiak was a fan of the bow, as well.
4.) Green Bay Packers (11-5) (3) – Well, as it turned out, Cedric Benson wasn’t the answer for the Packers running game, and in reality, there have been a few answers to that question this season. In all, the Packers used 6 different running backs (including fullback John Kuhn) with Benson being the go-to guy before his Week 5 injury. From there, James Starks picked up on his 2011 postseason run, then Alex Green and now DuJuan Harris appears to be the featured back. Still, when you have Aaron Rodgers, you’re offense is in good shape.
3.) New England Patriots (12-4) (2) – Lost in the amazingness that was Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson’s 2012 seasons was the once again masterful season-long campaign of Thomas Edward Patrick Brady Jr. A strong case could be made Brady should win this third MVP award. All he did was lead the Patriots to another ho-hum 12-4 season by throwing for 4,827 yards, 34 TDs and only 8 INTs; his third career season of single-digit interceptions. I wondered preseason if Brady could get better looking and the answer is, duh. Look at him. Whenever I see his Uggs billboards I scream “TOMMY!!” at them. People look at me like I’m nuts. They’re not wrong. I also asked if the dreadful 2011 Patriots defense could be better than 31st and they improved slightly to 25th. Hey, offense (and being attractive) wins games, right? (reminded of Super Bowl 42 and 46) Sigh.
2.) Atlanta Falcons (13-3) (9) – For the first few weeks of the regular season, probably up until he threw 5 picks against the Cardinals, Matt Ryan was a legitimate MVP contender. The Falcons were rolling everyone in their path and while they stumbled going 2-2 the last month of the year, they still finished 13-3 and the top seed in the NFC. Ryan, my fantasy QB I might add, accumulated 4,719 passing yards, 32 TDs and 14 INTs; all career highs. Still, if they don’t beat the Seahawks this weekend it’ll be considered an unmitigated disaster year and both Mike Smith and Ryan will take an enormous amount of offseason heat for failing, once again, to win a playoff game. Not to mention, Tony Gonzalez will retire winless in the playoffs.
1.) Denver Broncos (13-3) (14) – In a way, it’s fitting that my biggest whiff of the preseason predictions would go on to become the top team the NFL as we enter the Divisional Playoff Round. Peyton Manning had a throwback season for the ages after missing 2011 in its entirety following four neck surgeries, and most think he’s at least a 50/50 shot at winning his record 5th MVP. Hard to say he transformed the Broncos since they were a playoff team (and winner) a year ago, but he gave them a true identity and a definitely attitude and swagger they haven’t had since John Elway roamed the backfield. Riding an 11-game winning streak, I wouldn’t want to come anywhere near them in the playoffs. That’s good enough to earn you billing as The Man.
Stay tuned for my final 2012 NFL Season You’re The Man rankings which will come after the Super Bowl, where I’ll focus on the one thing each team has to look forward to or be concerned with heading into the 2013 offseason.
LOS ANGELES — Riding the tidal wave of last year’s rousing success, I decided to bring back my NFL Burning Questions column, only this time with a twist. Instead of doing one question for each number of Super Bowls, I’m going to borrow an idea I’ve seen elsewhere in the sports blogosphere and do an inquiry for all 32 teams and put them in a pre-Week 1 “You’re The Man” power ranking. (I mean, I have to be somewhat original, right?) Perhaps each week I’ll revisit the previous week’s question to see if an answer as been reached and re-rank accordingly. Hmm… (hamster gets off couch and peers at the wheel…)
So without any more adieu, let’s boast about other people’s football manhood!!
32.) Cleveland Browns — I have Greg Little on my main fantasy team this year, but will there be enough of a run game to allow Brandon Weeden time to throw him the ball and focus on something else other than all the 2nd- and 3rd-and-longs the Browns will eventually be in all season?
31.) Miami Dolphins — The only way Miami’s going to be able to score is if Ryan Tannehill’s wife lines up at WR and distracts the defense, thus allowing Reggie Bush to run rampant. So the question is, can Mrs. Tannehill play WR? I mean, no one else can on that team.
30.) Arizona Cardinals — At this rate, I’m next up in the QB Carousel down in Arizona. Seriously, does Kurt Warner really not want to play anymore? I’ve seen him in the hallways at NFL Network and I’m willing to bet he can still sling it better than Skelton/Kolb.
29.) Minnesota Vikings — If I’m Adrian Peterson, for starters I’d probably spend an uncomfortable amount of time staring at myself in the mirror, but I also wouldn’t be in any rush to get back on the field in Minnesota. However, with the aerial assassins in that division – Packers, Lions, Bears – can the Vikings defense be able to stop anyone?
28.) Jacksonville Jaguars – PHEW! Maurice Jones-Drew is back. Now, what week do I start him in fantasy? Can Justin Blackmon keep himself out of trouble long enough to become the next Anquan Boldin?
27.) St. Louis Rams – Can Jeff Fisher’s mustache play WR? Who is Sam Bradford supposed to throw it to? I feel for Steven Jackson because I’m guessing he’s going to take another pounding this season.
26.) New York Jets – If Tim Tebow comes in the game and scores a touchdown, would you take him out? What if the defense scores; can you send them out on offense? That’s how bad their offense is.
25.) Indianapolis Colts – I’m guessing this is the lowest the Colts will be all season. Just a hunch and my faith in Luck’s talent. He’s that good. Put it this way: would you rather have the Jets defense and their mess at QB or Andrew Luck? Yup, me too.
24.) Tennessee Titans – Jake Locker officially has the reigns of the Titans offense, having won them from my brother Matt Hasselbeck this preseason, but can Chris Johnson regain his 2010 form?
23.) Seattle Seahawks – I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong about Russell Wilson, but remember: he dominated the PRE-season. Different beast when the games count for real. Can he legitimately make the Seahawks a challenger to the 49ers in the NFC West?
22.) Oakland Raiders – The good news for Rolando McClain is the Black Hole is probably the only place were shooting off your guns in public is considered tame behavior. I’m guessing the Raiders offense is going to be fine; can the defense carry its weight with Peyton, the explosive Chiefs and potentially deadly Chargers in the way?
21.) Dallas Cowboys – Will Dez Bryant’s “bodyguards” be with him on the sideline to let him know when to go out in the huddle? More importantly, and for Tony Romo’s sake, will they actually suit up and play offensive line?
20.) Washington Redskins – I’m among those who think Robert Griffin III has the potential to have a Cam Newton-Lite type of season but will Mike Shanahan’s penchant for using 18 running backs during the season screw with Robert’s mojo?
19.) San Diego Chargers – The only question is will the Chargers start out hot and then fizzle to finish 8-8 or fizzle and get hot down the stretch to finish 8-8? Either way, they’ll be watching the playoffs from their over-priced recliners.
18.) Buffalo Bills – The offense started hot in 2011 as the Bills were the league’s darling. Now the defense is better with the addition of Mario Williams. Who will lead them this season?
17.) Kansas City Chiefs – Now that the Chiefs have a coach they like and a young defense said likable coach, who has a few Super Bowl rings, is creating schemes for, is Matt Cassel the man everyone in Arrowhead thinks he can be?
16.) Philadelphia Eagles – Dream Team. Dynasty. Is there another D-word an overrated player on the Eagles can throw out describing their underachieving ball club?
15.) Carolina Panthers – I’m not sure how many of you know this, but Cam Newton is not liked but a certain Southern California native wide receiver who happens to be his teammate. That said, can the offense stay as surprisingly explosive in Year 2?
14.) Denver Broncos – Peyton Manning is one of my favorite players. I have an autographed 8×10 he sent me when he was in college after I wrote him a letter as a high school junior. I think he should have retired after last year. I don’t think he’ll make it through this year unscathed. I hope I’m wrong. If he’s healthy, how will he make those around him better?
13.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – This is not the same Bucs team that lost 10 straight last year. I think. Can Greg Schiano inject some new life into the organization and can Josh Freeman bounce back from his disaster 2011 campaign to lead this young, potentially dangerous team?
12.) Pittsburgh Steelers – Ben Roethlisberger said during a sideline, preseason interview that he called his own plays. Hmm. So why was Todd Haley brought in again? Will Mike Wallace feel the effects of his hold out? And who’s the running back again? Get the feeling the trend of the last few years of this not being my daddy’s smashmouth Steelers will continue.
11.) Detroit Lions – You wanna talk about a team that throws it all over the school yard; your Detroit Lions, everybody! But can their secondary stop anyone? We know Ndamukong Suh has the front seven on lockdown, but can the back four prevent Matthew Stafford of having to engineer 4th Quarter comebacks all season?
10.) Chicago Bears – The Cutler & Marshall band is back together at Soldier Field this season, but will they make the same sweet Denver music?
9.) Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons are running out of excuses as to why they haven’t won a playoff game. Is Matty really Ice or is he the Cooler?
8.) Cincinnati Bengals – No one saw the 2011 Bengals coming, not even themselves. Can they equal last year’s surprising season or will a sophomore slump bite Andy Dalton and A.J. Green?
7.) New Orleans Saints – We’re going to find out in a hurry just how important a head coach is to a professional football team. Hell, we’re going to find out in a hurry just how important an INTERIM head coach is to a football team. Can Drew Brees be both AND the greatest passer this side of a 10-year-old Chris Brockman with a Nerf ball?
6.) Houston Texans – Arian Foster likes to bow after scoring touchdowns. I like to watch him bow after scoring touchdowns because that means 6+ points for my fantasy team. With Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson healthy, and Ben Tate the best backup RB in the game, how often does Gary Kubiak like watching Foster bow after scoring TDs?
5.) San Francisco 49ers – Can Alex Smith come out and make everyone forget his coach tried to woo Peyton Manning and then lied about it by showing how he nearly got the 9ers to the Super Bowl last year?
4.) Baltimore Ravens – Can the Ravens new kicker make a 32-yard field goal?
3.) Green Bay Packers – Quick Aaron Rodgers story: I was at the same ESPY’s after-after party earlier this summer as the 2011 NFL MVP, and he walked around like James freakin’ Bond. It was uncanny the control of the room (or rooftop in this case) he had. I ended up exiting the party with him, the Hasselbecks (all 3), Sage Steele, among others, and Rodgers made fun of us for all being bald. I said something inconsequential back and the night ended. Just thought I’d share. Oh, and is Cedric Benson really the answer for the Pack’s running woes?
2.) New England Patriots – I think we all know what to expect from the Patriots offense, but what about the defense? They can’t get much much worse than 31st in total defense, as they were in 2011. Oh, I thought of an offensive question: can Tom Brady get better looking this year? Like physically. He’s so dreamy. Seriously, look at those eyes.
1.) New York Giants – You all remember the Giants, don’t you? They’re the OTHER team that plays in New York (or New Jersey, but who cares about geography). You may know them as the ones who actually win in that town. You probably haven’t heard much from them since the Jets have dominated the back pages. Oh, right, a question … hmm … Will Tom Coughlin smile at all this season?
LOS ANGELES — When athletes and celebrities die I’m always conflicted. Most often, the news is tragic (see Houston, Whitney), as it is when any life ends too soon, but in nearly all cases I didn’t know the person. I sympathize for their families, but their loss only affects me on a superficial level, as I can no longer enjoy what it is that made their family member famous in the first place. If it’s someone in the sports world, it’s the joy I get in watching them play, reading their perspectives or listening their commentary. If it’s an entertainer, it’s enjoying their movies, music or prose.
Superficial relationships. Their death hardly impacts my daily ongoings aside from pausing to reflect on what their life meant in mine. When Michael Jackson died in June of 2009, my buddy VA and I did a podcast about his music and how he’d be remembered, same when the wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage passed nearly a year ago. They were important to us at one time, so we stopped to think back.
Wednesday’s news was different. I learned of the death of NFL legend Junior Seau stopped at a red light, scrolling Twitter. I found it strange he was the top trending topic in Los Angeles because he hasn’t been in the news for a while now, but I guess I should’ve known what I was about to find out; Twitter’s killed more people than polio.
TMZ, our nation’s leading breaking-news source (for better or worse), said that Seau had died in an apparent suicide; a gunshot would to the chest, in his Oceanside, Calif. home Wednesday morning. The website, which has enjoyed remarkable success in the last four years (since it was the first to report the death of Michael Jackson) publishing literally anything you can think of regarding the ultra-famous and self-glossed so, was first to report the news. It said Seau sent text messages to his ex-wife and three children Tuesday night and they responded as they would without concern. Police later said he was found by his girlfriend and that reviving efforts were unsuccessful.
NFL Network and ESPN held off on reporting the news until they had confirmation, which came later in a statement from the San Diego Chargers. Getting it right is more important than being first. I applaud them. Putting Seau’s crying mother on live television, however, was irresponsible and classless. No rating could ever justify taking advantage of her grief.
But the death of Seau is troubling and sad for so many reasons. He played 20 years in the NFL, made 12 straight Pro Bowls, led the Chargers to the Super Bowl and will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Being “Junior Seau, NFL linebacker” defined who he was. He was a warrior. He was the leader of his men. He was the best. Being away from that world was not easy for him, I’m guessing. Though he never appeared on the injury report as suffering from one, I’d assume he suffered numerous concussions as well as injuries, and undoubtedly, depression.
We’ll never know if that led to him taking his own life, but he’s part of a troubling trend in recent years. Seau becomes the third former player to commit suicide in the last year-plus, and the eighth member of the 1994 Chargers to have passed away unexpectedly. This post-playing depression is real and needs to be addressed. I’d venture to say that’s why Roger Goodell came down as hard as he did in the Saints Bounty scandal — four players were suspended Wednesday for their part, including Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season, joining Saints coach Sean Payton on the outside looking in this year — and will continue to push for player safety, much to the dismay of James Harrison.
I had a text conversation with a friend of mine this afternoon and it was pretty telling for this day and age. He’s two years older than I and we’re both fanatics of all sports. “Sad day to be a sports fan man. Things need to change,” he said. I responded in agreement but he went on. “Never imagined myself feeling or saying it, but maybe it’s not worth it. Supposed to be entertainment. Maybe I’m getting old, but doesn’t seem worth it, knowing the degrees of damage it causes. Crazy.” I wrote, “I may never let my kid play football,” to which he said, “Nope.”
None of us want to see this game reduced to aggressive flag football, but we can’t have any more days like Wednesday. If it can happen to a consummate pro like Junior Seau, Number 55, then it’s happening to many, many more and that’s a problem. A major one. I played football growing up and in four years of high school I only remember blacking out once after a hit – it was scary and on film you can see me stumble back to the huddle. I had the chance to play Division III but didn’t want to; the potential wear and tear on my body wasn’t worth it, and I was realistic in that I’d be little more than a tackling dummy for a couple years. I’m glad I made the choice I did.
My lasting image of Seau will be a big smile, a haircut I always found strange and that enormous, exuberant, fist punch into the air he would make in the backfield after a punishing hit on a would-be play maker. Not only was he an incredible player but he did so much for the San Diego community with his charitable causes. It was touching to read the accounts of Mike Silver and Jim Trotter, national sports writers who knew him well through their years covering the league.
He never won a Super Bowl title, coming oh-so close with the Patriots in 2007 and we can only hope that he’ll be a champion in death, this being a wake-up call for the entire NFL family.
That’s something I wouldn’t feel conflicted about.